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Le Mans Series 2007
Round 2. Monza 1000 Kilometers. April 13th-15th 2007

Third Free Practice

The final free practice session on Saturday morning (09:55-10.55) was punctuated by a succession of red flag stoppages, but RML picked up where they’d ended Friday, with Thomas Erdos first on track to assess the adjustments made to the MG in the light of the foreshortened final session the evening before.

Photo by Marcus Potts

It was soon evident that the competition within the LMP2 category had became even more intense, with the Bruichladdich Radical overcoming the gearbox problems that had curtailed the team’s Friday action, and becoming the fifth car to stake a claim to top honours in the class – alongside RML, Quifel ASM, Embassy Racing and Barazi Epsilon.

The first half-hour was a stop-start affair, with pace no sooner found than the red flags were waving again for one incident after another. This prevented Tommy from really getting to grips with the changes necessary, and after thirty minutes, he handed the car over to Mike Newton. “Other people had the same problem,” observed Erdos after returning to the garage. “We’ve been concentrating on our set-up for the race tomorrow, and while we appear to be lacking a little bit of pace for qualifying, I feel we’re in a good position for a six-hour race. That’s what really matters, and it’s been encouraging to have the car running so well and so reliably. The AER engine feels especially strong, and we’re pretty confident that we’ll have a good race.”

Photo by Marcus Potts

Mike carried the MG through to the end of the hour-long session, although this again ended ahead of time after Phil Keen took the Rollcentre Pescarolo into the tyre wall at the exit of Parabolica. The final timesheet revealed a best overall of 1:36.788 from the Charouz Racing Lola LMP1, just a tenth quicker than the first of the two Peugeot 908s, and then the works Courage #12 (Cochet) fourth. In LMP2, quickest was the back-on-form Bruichladdich Radical on 1:41.214, with the Barazi Zytek second (Vergers on 1:41.315) and the ASM Lola third. RML’s best from Thomas Erdos was a 1:42.547.

Photo by David Lord

Just one-and-a-half seconds separated the first seven in the class, but it was very much business as usual in the RML garage, where Ray Mallock had arrived to oversee proceedings. “We see this very much as a countdown to Le Mans,” he explained. “Our ultimate objective has to be to win Le Mans for a third time, and this is like a dress rehearsal for that event. This circuit at Monza is the one that most closely resembles Le Mans, and we’re looking ahead to that almost as much as we are the race tomorrow. This is the best opportunity we’re going to get to test and develop our race set-up before we get to France in June. We know that the opposition here in the Le Mans Series has moved on over the winter, but they’re concentrating on 1000 kilometre races. We’ve elected to focus on our full twenty-four hour set-up, so we’re still running all our back-up systems, such as the twin alternator and starter motor configurations that we perfected last year.” Such considerations benefit reliability and endurance, but may not be conducive to outright qualifying pace. “As far as I’m concerned, this is a dress rehearsal for Le Mans,” concluded Ray.

Update on Luc Alphand Fire
An official communiqué from the series' organisers, issued on Saturday 14th April, confirms that four mechanics were injured in Friday's pitlane fire. Two of these were released quickly, and have already rejoined their team. A third remains in hospital in Monza with what are described as "superficial injuries", and should be discharged shortly. It is believed that this is the man who was treated by the RML pit crew immediately following the incident.

The fourth mechanic was taken to a specialist burns unit in Milan suffering from second-degree burns to 35% of his body. His condition is described as "stable" and "satisfactory" by the doctors treating him, and it is hoped that he will be well enough to be moved, perhaps to another hospital nearer his home in France, within the next few days. We wish them all a speedy recovery.


Qualifying for the Monza 1000 kilometres 2007 was delayed by twenty minutes so that oil spillage from the previous event could be treated, but that didn’t prevent a queue of cars lining up at the pit exit for the published time of 13:55. Others, including RML, were quick to anticipate the revised start-time, and held their cars back in their garages, maintaining tyre temperatures and giving their drivers the best chance at a good time early on.

Once the lights turned green, Tommy was quick to head down the pitlane and join the track, and was equally quickly up to speed. His very first flyer was a 1:41.531,and emphatically the best the MG had achieved since arriving at Monza. It moved the #25 neatly into second place in LMP2, just behind the #43 ASM Lola. His next lap was better still, at 1:40.764, but Michael Vergers was also on a charge in the Barazi Epsilon Zytek, slotting in ahead of the MG with a 1:39.961.

Photo by Peter May

Out at the sharp end, the battle for outright pole had immediately come down to one of three cars - the Charouz Lola having the initial advantage, with Stefan Mucke establishing an early bridgehead on 1:36.187, just ahead of the two Peugeots. Of these, it was Sarrazin making the early showing. After waiting quite late to join the session, he came through on only his third lap to set a new provisional pole time of 1:36.082.

Photo by Peter MayIn LMP2, Vergers was improving, and his next was a 1:39.481, while former RML driver Warren Hughes was showing good form in the Embassy Radical, setting 1:41.420 to move into fourth, narrowly behind Erdos. The Brazilian was finding yet more time from the MG, however, and when he came through with a 1:40.146, it was good enough to move into second in P2, just behind Vergers, but ahead of Burgeño, with Moseley (Bruichladdich Radical) now holding 4th on 1:41.131.

Having allowed the Charouz Lola some brief glory in LMP1, the two Peugeots were now starting to show their true colours. After two days when fastest first and second sectors had been followed by woefully slow thirds, or even pitstops, the two black and white coupes were finally starting to string together entire laps at representative pace. Nicholas Minassian suddenly leaped ahead, becoming the first to break 1:36 by setting a time of 1:35.678.

Tommy had done his best, however. Just as Minassian was giving his Peugeot a free head, the MG was coming back down the pitlane to be met by the RML mechanics, who were quick to hoist the tail-end onto a trolley and wheel the car backwards into the garage. “I knew I was on it!” he said later. “That was as good a lap as I felt I could do. I got the best out of the car. Maybe I could have gone a bit quicker, but not safely, and not without taking risks. I was pretty happy, to be honest, but the reality is that our car is a little slower than the opposition today”

Photo by Marcus Potts

As Erdos was climbing out of the MG, Minassian swept by for his next pass, this time posting a new fastest lap of 1:34.503, noticeably faster than either 908 had ever gone before. All was not finished in LMP2 however, even if the MG was out of the action. Burgeño was next to make an improvement, knocking Vergers off the top slot with a time of 1:39.789, and demoting the RML MG to the second row of the LMP2 grid. A further improvement of almost half a second, followed by a final flyer of just 1:39.271, appeared to place pole beyond doubt. Who would claim outright glory, however, remained in question almost to the very end, with Minassian’s team-mate Sarrazin closing to within two-tenths of the #7 Peugeot with a new best of 1:34.680, but that was as close as it got.

The flag dropped with Burgeño on LMP2 pole, from Michael Vergers second, and Thomas Erdos third. Their times; 1:39.271, 1:39.481 and 1:40.146 respectively, made interesting comparison with the pole time from 2005 – the last time the cars were at Monza – which stood at 1:41.111, more than two seconds slower. Tommy’s qualifying time in 2005 had been 1.42.028, 5th in P2. Outright pole that year had fallen to Tom Chilton in the LMP1 Zytek with a time of 1:37.938, nearly three and a half seconds slower than today’s best by Nic Minassian.

Photo by Peter May

Within the RML garage, there were smiles at last. The previous two days had been somewhat frustrating for the squad, but at last their hard work had paid off. It might not have been the pole they’d grown accustomed to in 2006,when Erdos had been unbeaten in qualifying, but it was actually better than some had expected, such has been the level of improvement demonstrated by several of the other teams, with new cars and upgraded aerodynamics. “That was an excellent qualifying session and a great performance from Tommy,” said Adam Wiseberg. “On our 2006-specification bodywork, I think it’s true to say that Tommy exceeded our expectations, as always.” There remains some debate over the true benefits of the new aero-package from Lola, and RML is one of a number of teams yet to adopt the revised bodywork, but there is no doubt that the ASM Lola has found considerable extra pace since last season. “The Portuguese car is essentially similar to the MG,” said Erdos, “but they’ve adopted the newer aerodynamics. Even so, I’m not convinced that the level of difference they seem to have achieved today is just down to that. They’ve obviously found something else over the winter, and it’s made a significant difference.”

Several hours later it transpired that the ASM Lola had failed the post-qualifying scrutineering check, on the basis that the undertray had moved and thereby reduced the ground-clearance. Such a change would not have had any great significance on the car’s performance, but it was sufficient to ensure that Burgeño’s time would ultimately be disallowed, and the #40 Lola will begin tomorrow’s race from the back of the grid.

So the RML MG will start the Monza 1000 kms from the front row of LMP2 after all. “We’ve got a well-balanced car, ready to race,” said Phil Barker. “It now remains to see how strong the others are going to be in the race.”

Additional photographs on this page supplied by David Lord and Peter May of Dailysportscar. A brief press release about qualifying can be viewed here.

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